World Oil: Market or Mayhem?

James L. Smith


The world oil market is regarded by many as a puzzle. Why are oil prices so volatile? What is OPEC and what does OPEC do? Where are oil prices headed in the long run? Is “peak oil” a genuine concern? Why did oil prices spike in the summer of 2008, and what role did speculators play? Any attempt to answer these questions must be informed and disciplined by economics. Such is the purpose of this essay: to illuminate recent developments in the world oil market from the perspective of economic theory.